Category Archives: Children’s books

Malala’s Magic Pencil

There are so many wonderful books for children that fit into my “Wanderlust” project of reading books that are from or take place in each country around the world. When I made an early January trip to the library, I found a very nice story for this project.

Pakistan:
Malala’s Magic Pencil is the first picture book written by activist and Nobel Prize laureate, Malala Yousafzai. It is autobiographical and a sweet story about how she became an activist, using her pen and her voice to advocate for women’s education and a better more peaceful world. When Malala was little, she watched a tv show about a young boy who had a magic pencil. He helped people by drawing—whatever he drew, came true. So if someone was hungry, he would draw a bowl of curry and feed them. Malala thought it would be wonderful to have a magic pencil, and she thought about ways she could help others if she had one. That thinking lead her to realize that, if she was to really be able to help others, she would need a good education.
This is a wonderful introduction to Malala and her influence worldwide. I would have used this book in my classroom to start discussions about many important issues in today’s world, and to introduce my students to one of my heroes!

A Little Princess

Illustration by Jesse Willcox Smith…

A Little Princess, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favorite books read this year. It had been so many years since I last read it that I’d almost forgotten what a treasure it is. I think I loved the story even more this time around.

From the publisher:

Sara Crewe, an exceptionally intelligent and imaginative student at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies, is devastated when her adored, indulgent father dies. Now penniless and banished to a room in the attic, Sara is demeaned, abused, and forced to work as a servant. How this resourceful girl’s fortunes change again is at the center of A Little Princess, one of the best-loved stories in all of children’s literature.

Some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“It’s true,” she said. “Sometimes I do pretend I am a princess. I pretend I am a princess, so that I can try and behave like one.”

“She says it has nothing to do with what you look like, or what you have. It has only to do with what you think of, and what you do.”

“Perhaps kind thoughts reach people somehow, even through windows and doors and walls. Perhaps you feel a little warm and comforted, and don’t know why, when I am standing here in the cold and hoping you will get well and happy again.”

“If Nature has made you for a giver, your hands are born open, and so is your heart; and, though there may be times when your hands are empty, your heart is always full, and you can give things out of that — warm things, kind things, sweet things — help and comfort and laughter — and sometimes gay, kind laughter is the best help of all.”

This is a story of resilience in adversity, and of choosing to be positive and hopeful even under the worst conditions. It is about kindness and compassion and love. What better story to read during the holiday season?

 

The Long Winter

The winter of 1880/1881 was one of the worst winters on record in South Dakota. The Long Winter, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is the story of her family’s experience in surviving that dreadful winter. One of the books in her Little House on the Prairie series, this book chronicles the seven months of blizzard after blizzard, the deep cold, and the terrible hunger that the citizens of DeSmet, and Laura’s family, suffered.  Even the supply train became stuck in the snow and could not bring in the desperately needed supplies.

The story of how this family and the townspeople survived is riveting and amazing. Laura’s parents were amazing with their survival skills, as the homesteaders of those days had to be. But I was inspired by their inner strength and how they encouraged that strength in their daughters. Laura was a tremendous help to them throughout that winter struggle.

However, that long long winter took a tremendous emotional toll on the family along with the physical struggle to survive. It became increasingly difficult to keep up their spirits, as the struggle to stay warm went on and endlessly on.

I couldn’t help but draw some parallels to our year+ of quarantine and isolation due to the Covid 19 pandemic. So many people have really suffered from the isolation and feeling of endless restrictions on “normal” life. Reading this book gave me a new appreciation for the resilience we find deep inside at times of intense hardship and difficulty.

For the storm was white. In the night, long after the sun had gone and the last daylight could not possibly be there, the blizzard was whirling white. A lamp could shine out through the blackest darkness and a shout could be heard a long way, but no light and no cry could reach through a storm that had wild voices and an unnatural light of its own.

“Now, girls!” Ma said. “A storm outdoors is no reason for gloom in the house.” “What good is it to be in town?” Laura said. “We’re just as much by ourselves as if there wasn’t any town.” “I hope you don’t expect to depend on anybody else, Laura.” Ma was shocked. “A body can’t do that.”

After Ma had seen them all tucked in bed and had gone downstairs, they heard and felt the blizzard strike the house. Huddled close together and shivering under the covers they listened to it. Laura thought of the lost and lonely houses, each one alone and blind and cowering in the fury of the storm. There were houses in town, but not even a light from one of them could reach another. And the town was all alone on the frozen, endless prairie, where snow drifted and winds howled and the whirling blizzard put out the stars and the sun.

 

I read this book as one of my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.

 

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I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the States,” my effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the 50 United States. This book took place in South Dakota.

The Land of the Blue Flower

More wise words from Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden.  A lovely thought from her short book called The Land of the Blue Flower:

“The earth is full of magic…Most men know nothing of it and so comes misery. The first law of the earth’s magic is this one. If you fill your mind with a beautiful thought there will be no room in it for an ugly one.”

My Robin

I am quite captivated by the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett since reading Unearthing The Secret Garden, by Marta McDowell. Included in that book is a short memoir — the story of the little English robin that inspired the robin in The Secret Garden. My Robin is a lovely book to read on a gray and rainy afternoon.

I did not own the robin—he owned me—or perhaps we owned each other. He was an English robin and he was a PERSON—not a mere bird. An English robin differs greatly from the American one. He is much smaller and quite differently shaped. His body is daintily round and plump, his legs are delicately slender. He is a graceful little patrician with an astonishing allurement of bearing. His eye is large and dark and dewy; he wears a tight little red satin waistcoat on his full round breast and every tilt of his head, every flirt of his wing is instinct with dramatic significance. He is fascinatingly conceited—he burns with curiosity—he is determined to engage in social relations at almost any cost and his raging jealousy of attention paid to less worthy objects than himself drives him at times to efforts to charm and distract which are irresistible. An intimacy with a robin—an English robin—is a liberal education.

This story is also available in book form, as an e-book, and as a short audiobook through Audible. It’s a sweet little read, especially for those of us who loved The Secret Gatden.

Illustration by Inga Moore, from The Secret Garden

Read-a-thon Wrap-Up, October 2021

Painting by Deborah DeWitj

9:00 p.m.  My Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon is over now. It’s been a long time since I pulled an “all-nighter.” (I get more excited about pulling an “all-dayer” these days, even though I do love naps!)  So although I’d love to stay up all night and read, I will leave the “night owl reading” to others and wish you a very happy reading night!

Thank you so much to all the organizers of the read-a-thon! I know it is a lot of work for many people, and I just want you all to know how much I appreciate you working to keep this fun tradition alive and thriving after so many years.

Here are the books I read and thoroughly enjoyed for this read-a-thon:

Read-a-thon Morning, October 2021

Read-a-thon time

NOON:  What a lovely read-a-thon morning — rainy outside but with plenty of hot tea and enjoyable books indoors.

My first book read today was Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen. It is one of my all-time favorite books. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve read it, and how many times I shared it with children, but it never gets old and it’s like visiting an old friend each time I reread it.  On a cold winter night, a young girl and her father go owling.    “It was late one winter night, long past my bedtime, when Pa and I went owling.”

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After Owl Moon, I read some other children’s books from the library. Owl Babies, by Martin Waddell, and illustrated by  Patrick Benson, was delightful. Three owlets wake up in the night and find that their mother is gone. They waited, but she didn’t return. They waited some more, huddled together on a branch outside the nest. They were worried. Would she ever return? A very sweet owl story for the young ones!

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Owl Sees Owl, by Laura Godwin, with beautiful illustrations by Rob Dunlavey, is a word book. The story is told visually and with single words, four at a time on a page. It’s a heartwarming story of a young owl’s exploration of his world outside the nest while his family is asleep. The four words on each page tell the story of his adventure. I would love to read this book (over and over again) to a very young grandchild sitting on my lap. Alas, my grandson is almost 15 years old, but he would have loved hearing it read to him back then!

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Owls: Our Most Charming Birds, written and illustrated by artist, Matt Sewell, is a guidebook for older children (and adults) who really want to learn about owls found all over the world. The illustrations of each owl are wonderful and the information that accompanies each one is excellent and informative. I learned a lot reading this one. It’s a book I definitely would have had in my 6th grade class library!

 


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Another old family favorite on my bookshelf is Owl at Home, by Arnold Lobel. My kids loved every one of Arnold Lobel’s books, and this one is well-worn and well-loved. From the publisher: “Owl lives by himself in a warm little house. But whether Owl is inviting Winter in on a snowy night or welcoming a new friend he meets while on a stroll, Owl always has room for visitors.

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Otis the Owl, by Mary Holland, is a beautiful photography book about the life of a baby owl. The photographs are amazing, and the story about the young life of this owl and his sister is interesting. But this book is also a science book for the young naturalist. There’s a wealth of information about owls after the story ends. See an example below. What a wonderful book for learning/teaching about owls!

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Wow! Owling: Enter the World of  the Mysterious Birds of the Night, by Mark Wilson, is an awesome book I found at the library. It was just jam packed with information about owls and comparing them to other birds. It’s a complete education for young and old, for anyone interested at all in owls!

A special book:  My friend, Marlo, shared a very special book with me on baby owls.  She created it for her grandchildren and very generously sent me the link to the photo book along with the following story about how she created it. “I’m going to add a little-known, amateur book to your available titles. Several years ago we stayed in a vacation home that had an owl nest in the yard. I spent most of the month sitting in the yard watching. Here is a link to the book I made for my grandchildren. https://babyowlbook.shutterfly.com … What a great experience it was!”  THANK YOU so much, Marlo, for adding your book to my owl reading today! I loved it!

The rest of my morning was spent doing Saturday chores and listening to the audiobook, I Heard the Owl Call my Name, by Margaret Craven. It is fiction, and not directly about owls themselves, but is a beautifully written classic about the native peoples and culture of the Pacific Northwest, of which owls play an important part.  I’m not quite finished with it yet, but after my lunch break / blogging time, I’ll finish this audiobook and continue with my afternoon read-a-thon reading!  

And outside, the rain continues!

Poison for Breakfast


Here’s a quote from a fun little book I read for the Readers Imbibing Peril -XVI challenge. The book, Poison for Breakfast, by Daniel Handler, was the first Lemony Snicket book I’ve read, and it made me laugh out loud and kept me highly entertained throughout. This quote, though, struck a particularly familiar chord with me, so I share it with you this morning,

I always like to have a book with me at breakfast, although sometimes I do not read much of it. Some breakfasts I do not even open the book, but it sits beside me like a quiet companion while my thoughts wander all over the morning.

Good morning, Readers!

Bronze and Sunflower

Bronze and Sunflower, by Cao Wenxuan, is a book about two young people growing up in China during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. During that period of time, many artists were relocated to “Cadre Schools” (labor camps) in the countryside. Sunflower’s father was an artist, a sculptor that created beautiful bronze sunflowers, (he loved sunflowers and that’s why he named his daughter after them) and he was one of the artists that was removed from the city.

So Sunflower moved with her father, along with many other relocated city people, to the shores of a big river. Directly across the river was a small country village, and she watched the people, and especially the children, from the reed covered riverbank. When Sunflower’s father died, there was no place for her in the town, so some of the aunties in the town took her across the river to the village, and sat with her in the village square hoping that someone would take her in. There were two families in the village that showed an interest in “adopting” her. One was a wealthier family, but their son had been a bully to her. The other family was an impoverished family, and their son, Bronze, wanted Sunflower to become his sister. Bronze was a strong, kind, and  intelligent boy, but he was mute since a traumatic experience when he was younger. Sunflower had come to know him through interactions on the river bank, and when the decision as to which family would become her new family, she chose Bronze’s family.

And she became a dearly loved member of that family — a family that was poor, but with a huge heart. Life was not easy for this family, but they had great dignity and compassion, were hardworking and resilient, and they loved Sunflower deeply.

The story of this family facing the difficulties of poverty and famine, and the warm relationship between Sunflower and her new brother, Bronze, is both heartfelt and moving. Bronze protected her and kept her safe from the town bully; they worked together to help to grow and gather food for the family; Sunflower taught Bronze how to read and write (because he was mute, he was not allowed to go to school); and they shared the joys of being children of the countryside.

It is a lovely story. One reviewer said it should be considered for a Newbery honor, and I would agree with that idea. It certainly was an honest and heartfelt immersion into a different culture and time.

I recommend it highly.

I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This book was written by a much loved children’s book author from CHINA.

Misty Copeland: A Life in Motion

Being snowed-in during a quarantine is an interesting happening. We’ve had unusual snow and ice in the last week here in the greater Portland, Oregon, area, so Byron and I just hunkered down (more than usual) and withdrew into books, tv shows, and indoor projects. I spent my time with Misty Copeland, learning about her life through three books checked out of the online section of our library.

The first book was the young reader’s edition of Misty Copeland’s autobiography, Life in Motion: an unlikely ballerina. I had heard of Misty Copeland as a gifted ballerina, but I didn’t really know her story. This book was a very interesting way to get to know more about her, through her own words, and I enjoyed the experience. Not only is she an amazing ballerina, but she is an inspiration to and a role model for so many people, young and old.

From the publisher:

With an insider’s passion, Misty opens a window into the life of an artist who lives life center stage, from behind the scenes at her first classes to her triumphant roles in some of the world’s most iconic ballets. A sensational memoir as “sensitive” and “clear-eyed” (The Washington Post) as her dancing, Life in Motion is a story of passion, identity and grace for anyone who has dared to dream of a different life.

There were not many people of color in ballet when Misty Copeland began her journey. Better said, there were very talented dancers of color, but not many ways to advance very far in the white world of ballet. She was a late-starter in ballet at age 13, but she was tremendously gifted, a prodigy, who excelled right from the beginning of her training. She was fortunate to have an early mentor/teacher who embraced her talent and nurtured her growth of confidence and pride of self.

“Most of the students at the San Pedro Dance Center were white, but I wasn’t the only child of color. A lot of people think that ballet dancers should all look the same: thin and delicate, with white skin. Cindy thought different shapes, colors, and sizes should be represented to reflect the variety of talent in the ballet world. I feel lucky to have been nurtured by someone so supportive of my differences so early in my career.”

Her drive and ambition to become the best she could be was integral to her career in dance. Her dream was to become a principal dancer for the American Ballet Theater, and she worked fiercely toward that goal.

“I went back to my journal to write about ABT: I need to go in there and show them how good I am. I wasn’t ready to stop fighting my way to the top at ABT. Maybe I’d have to work ten times harder than anyone else because of my skin color, because I didn’t have the body they thought was ideal for ballet. If that’s what it took to become a principal dancer, I’d keep pushing myself. I couldn’t stop now. I’d given up so much to get here. I’d make them see that I deserved it—and more.”

But that drive and ambition was for more than herself. She was deeply appreciative of all those people ( white and people of color) who mentored her and helped her achieve her dreams. She talked in this book about them and about who she also included in her dream:

“If this could open doors for black women in ballet, that would mean the world to me, I penned in my diary. It would all be worth it. That’s what I’m doing this for. Not for my own pleasure and gratification. I need to remember this every morning I wake up tired, just think[ing] of what I could do, not just for me but [for] others.”

Her athleticism and artistry are extraordinary. I was completely enthralled when I watched clips on YouTube from some of her performances, and then I discovered that there was a movie of her called A Ballerina’s Tale. I look forward to watching that soon.

The other two books written by Misty that I checked out at the same time were Bunheads, a book on ballet for 5 to 8 year olds. It had wonderful illustrations and would please any young person interested in ballet.  The other book was Firebird, also written for young children. Both books encourage hard work and dedication as ways to become a dancer and also to build confidence in one’s self.

The temperatures here are warming up and the melting has started today. The snow and ice will be gone soon with the coming rain, but  thanks to Misty Copeland, I really enjoyed my time being snowed-in during this quarantine. (But I will be glad to be able to get out to the grocery store once again!)

 

 

Bud, Not Buddy

Bud, Not Buddy, by Christopher Paul Curtis, is an award winning book for young people. It won both the Newbery Medal and the Coretta Scott King Award. It’s a wonderful, heart-warming book, and I just wanted to take Bud (not Buddy) home with me.

“A bud is a flower-to-be. A flower-in-waiting. Waiting for just the right warmth and care to open up. It’s a little fist of love waiting to unfold and be seen by the world. And that’s you.”

— This is what Bud’s mother told him about his name, and is why he always introduces himself as “Bud, not Buddy.”

Bud is an orphan, having lost his mother four years ago, and not knowing who his father was, he was placed in an orphanage. The time was during the depression; the place was Flint, Michigan; and an orphanage during that time was a miserable place to be. After being in the orphanage, and then experiencing an abusive foster home, Bud ran away and decided to try to find out who his father was from the clues his mother left behind. He carried those clues with him everywhere in a tattered old suitcase tied up with twine.

His first stop after running away was the library. The librarian had always been very kind to him, and he knew she would understand and help him. However, he discovered that she had gotten married and moved away, but the new librarian took him underwing and helped him figure out a walking route to Grand Rapids, where he thought his father might be, based on his mother’s clues.

Shucks, this is one of the bad things about talking to librarians, I asked one question and already she had us digging through three different books.

The twists and turns of how he finally got to a destination in Grand Rapids were fun to read, and quite adventurous. It was not easy for anyone to travel during that period of time, and it was especially dangerous for a young black boy to be traveling alone. But he met some Helpers along the way, and what awaited him in Grand Rapids was a new life, but not without twists and turns first.

If you didn’t have a real good imagination you’d probably think those noises were the sounds of some kid blowing a horn for the first time, but I knew better than that. I could tell those were the squeaks and squawks of one door closing and another one opening.

In the Afterword to the book, the author, Christopher Paul Curtis, talked about how he learned about this period of time and how he based some of the characters on his own grandfathers. He had a wonderful piece of advice for his readers:

Much of what I discovered about the depression I learned through research in books, which is a shame—I didn’t take advantage of the family history that surrounded me for many years. I’m afraid that when I was younger and my grandparents and parents would start to talk about their lives during the depression, my eyes would glaze over and I’d think, “Oh, no, not those boring tall tales again!” and I’d find the most convenient excuse I could to get away from them. Now I feel a real sorrow when I think of all the knowledge, wisdom and stories that have been forever lost with the deaths of my grandparents. Be smarter than I was: Go talk to Grandma and Grandpa, Mom and Dad and other relatives and friends. Discover and remember what they have to say about what they learned growing up. By keeping their stories alive you make them, and yourself, immortal.

This is such an enjoyable book to read, especially during Black History Month, which this year focuses on families. Read it with your family, read it to your middle grade students, or read it by yourself on a snowy afternoon. It will warm your heart.

Bass Player, by La Shun Beal